Collection of DNA and environmental samples

The aim of the collection of DNA and environmental samples is to preserve and manage extracted samples of DNA and tissue, as well as extracted environmental samples, for scientific purposes. In order to study nature and to understand and prognosticate global changes, researchers in all fields of science that investigate living nature engage in systematic and consistent collection of samples. To preserve the extracted samples of DNA and tissue, as well as extracted environmental samples, and to make them easily accessible to stakeholders in a machine-readable form, the samples need to be preserved and managed according to specific requirements.

Metagenomics is a rapidly growing scientific discipline in which genetic material is extracted directly from an environmental sample. Such taxonomic identification is applied at the level of different ecosystems – from that of a single organism or a part of an organism to entire communities, i.e. to environmental samples that comprise any forms of life. The exponential growth and diversity of the material requires its organisation.

A number of steps have been taken worldwide to collect and preserve genetic material. An excellent example is the Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN), whose purpose is to bring together different institutions to preserve DNA samples that have been collected and extracted from nature and to provide a data management platform for sample data. The data in the GGBN are freely accessible to scientists as well as to any other interested parties. From Estonia, an institution that has joined the Network is the University of Tartu Natural History Museum, which provides Estonia’s research institutions with a physical infrastructure – its collection of DNA and environmental samples – and with a digital one – the data management system PlutoF – for long-term preservation and management of their environmental samples.

As of the end of 2020, the Museum’s collection contains over 30,000 samples of DNA and about a thousand tissue samples. Information on most of the material has already been published in scientific editions, yet much of the value of the collections remains to be realised. The Museum also has many fungal, plant and animal collections of which a number are also informative on a DNA level. As research methods evolve, enhanced opportunities will become available to study nature based on historical material. Still, decreasing biodiversity creates a need to collect and preserve existing genetic material already at present. Such a forward-looking view requires organised preservation of the material in accordance with specific requirements.

Sergei Põlme
Senior Specialist for Systematic Zoology
Tel 559 45 041